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Advice needed concerning trading 1957 Chevy Belair two dr. hardtop for a 57 Thunderbird with both tops


dr. james
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Members,

 

I've been approached by a person who owns a very nice 1957 Thunderbird with both tops, power steering, power seats, power front disc brakes, tilt steering wheel, and he is interested in an even swap for my 1957 Chevy Belair two door hardtop with power glide trans, power steering, power pack, rebuilt 283 last year, 4 new wide-white radial tires, exterior color black with original style red/black interior.  The Thunderbird is available for $45K.

 I owned a 1955 Thunderbird 35 years ago but my wife hated the car because of hard opening doors,  big steering wheel, and sluggish 6 volt system.  She tells me to do what I want because she has never driven the 57 Chevy and has no plans to drive a 57 Thunderbird.  According to my research, the Chevy appears to be more valuable than the Thunderbird.  Your advice will be appreciated.

 

Dr. James

 

66 Mustang

57 Chevy Belair

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The Tbird sounds almost like a resto mod which may hurt/ help the value.   post pictures of each if you can.  that would help us see condition.  Sometimes that 1 difference in number grade can make a big difference in value .  

Dollar to dollar wise,  your 57 is probable currently in similar range on the asking price of the 57 Tbird but it's hard to determine if that bird is overvalued.  45 will get you a really nice pretty much show quality  57 tbird top to bottom in and out.   With some shopping the same goes for a 57.  Neither is rare so it's pretty easy to determine value,  but i do agree T-birds aren't hot sellers for some reason.  

I had a 57 tbird for 10 years and drove it alot.  It was a great car in good shape.  It wasn't as easy to sell when i went to sell it,  but then again I had it at market price.  In a tight market , market price is hard to get.  Everyone needs a deal. 

Lets see some pics.  

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The Thunderbird is not a spacious car, and 

from what I've heard others say, people of

above-average height aren't very comfortable

in them.  Be aware.  And by the way, Thunderbirds

of that vintage are very common, so if you really

want one, you can search around for a few months

and probably have a few dozen to select from.

That seller's price seems too high.

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Assuming both cars have close to same current book value, you are faced primarily with a personal style or make preference. As for me, I much prefer the T-Bird, and although the '57 is not as fetching as the 55/56 models, it is still a much better looking car IMHO than the '57 Chevy, and has a cache no early Chev has. I've never been able to fathom the car hobby's love of '57 Chevy's. Since I gather it is your desire to drive the car, and take it to local shows, I think you are likely to get more "looks" with a T-Bird than just another '57 Chev. John S says "...Thunderbirds of that vintage are very common...."? I don't agree, '57 Chevys are much more common, '57 T-Birds relatively uncommon, at least around here. 

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1 hour ago, auburnseeker said:

I had a 57 tbird for 10 years and drove it a lot.  It was a great car in good shape.  It wasn't as easy to sell when i went to sell it,  but then again I had it at market price.

 

It's no wonder those Thunderbirds are challenging to sell:

I just checked the Hemmings website, and there are 144

Thunderbirds listed just from the 1957 model year!

 

I underestimated just how common they were.

I'm sure they are nice cars, but "very common" should be

changed to "extremely common."  Just imagine if there

were 144 Nashes from 1950, or the same number of

1932 Marmons or 1962 Studebakers, available--all at once

on just a single website!

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Hey Matt, just an aside on this, sports car people in general always love to refer to "both tops" and T-Bird people in particular.  What do your customers REALLY tell you about the ownership experience dealing with both tops?  I have always thought storing a removable hardtop to be a hassle more trouble than it is worth, is it just me? Todd C

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5 hours ago, dr. james said:

sluggish 6 volt system

Nothing wrong with 6 volts, if properly maintained.  Volts x amps = watts  6, 12 or 24 volts makes no difference.

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FYI, 1957 Thunderbird is 12 volts.

 

2 hours ago, poci1957 said:

Hey Matt, just an aside on this, sports car people in general always love to refer to "both tops" and T-Bird people in particular.  What do your customers REALLY tell you about the ownership experience dealing with both tops?  I have always thought storing a removable hardtop to be a hassle more trouble than it is worth, is it just me? Todd C

 

Cars with two tops are an odd situation. When I have a car for sale that had a two top option available (Thunderbird, Corvette, Mercedes SL, etc.), EVERYONE asks if it has two tops. They are always disappointed when they hear it has only the soft top. But the way most are used in the real world is exactly as you describe--they take off the hardtop, store it somewhere that it is always in the way and getting kicked and beat up, and drive the car with the top down. If it rains, they put up the cloth top. They never install the hardtop since they never drive it in inclement weather, and I can't imagine anything more miserable than an early Thunderbird, especially a '55, with a hardtop in place on a hot summer day. When I describe this condition to a potential buyer to explain to them why they can live without a hardtop, they always reply, "No, I really want it. I'll use it." 

 

If that's true, then why are all the removable hard tops I get kind of beat up with bad weather seals and full of spider webs? ALL OF THEM.

 

Removable hardtops are stupid, especially on a hobby car. You won't use it. It only adds value because the next guy is as dumb as the previous guy who just HAD TO HAVE IT.

 

Interesting note: on the early Thunderbirds, EITHER top as a no-cost option, but BOTH was extra cost. That's why you sometimes see early T-Birds with a hardtop but no soft top. Weird, but there it is.

 

 

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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37 minutes ago, Matt Harwood said:

 

If that's true, then why are all the removable hard tops I get kind of beat up with bad weather seals and full of spider webs? ALL OF THEM.

 

Removable hardtops are stupid, especially on a hobby car. You won't use it. It only adds value because the next guy is as dumb as the previous guy who just HAD TO HAVE IT.

 

Well that is pretty much my take, with the added point that leaving your soft top folded while the hardtop is on will ruin it. .  Glad that I am not missing the logic on this, thanks, Todd C

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In 1957, Chevrolet was outsold by Ford, outstyled by Chrysler and outpowered by both (Ford offered a 300 hp supercharged engine...which was about as common as Chevy's 283 hp engine...which was not very.) I say this not to insult anyone's car, but to remind folks that (aside from the Corvette) Chevy was the bottom of the line for GM. In other words, a pretty ordinary car. Ford was also bottom of the line, but the T-Bird - like Chevy's Corvette - was something special and unique. I just get tired of the mythology surrounding tri 5 Chevy's...that they changed the automotive world or something. The engines did, but the cars, no way. Sales figures from '57 and Harley Earl's dramatic response to Virgil Exner's new designs pretty much prove that '57 Chevys were nothing special.

 

With that out of the way, the Chevy will be more practical, I guess. If it's a money thing, I can't guide you on that. Just go with what you like.

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Doc, a 55- 57 T-bird might get along better with your Mustang.  Personally I like 56 the best.  These seem like good deals now, although as pointed out, plenty of supply for the demand.  Having had a tri five Chevy, I think a car thats in demand by both rodder and restorer types places a higher demand on the supply.  If your ready for a change I say go for it, but the tbird better be exceptional as the Chevy is generally worth more in the current market.

Edited by Steve_Mack_CT (see edit history)
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So, you didn't drive the Chevy over to where the T Bird is and test drive the Ford. Do that. The question would be answered.

 

I have found the best way to save money is by driving your own collector car when you go car shopping.

 

Those Thunderbird dies were getting pretty worn out by the time '57 came along. I bet it has at least 3 more pounds of lead in the cowl that a '55. A rough car when new, but good window dressing for the showroom.

 

Bernie

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I will admit that I no longer deal in 2-seat Thunderbirds. I mean no offense to the guys who love them, but they have been the #1 source of customer complaints above and beyond all other cars I've ever sold, by a wide margin. I think part of the problem is that they had a very high survival rate because everyone thought they were special cars. So you have cars that have been alive for 60 years with who knows how many mechanics tinkering around on them and to what standard? I've probably sold 20 or so 2-seat 'Birds in my career and of those, only one (that black one with the blackwall tires) measured up to what I thought was an acceptable standard for a 1950s automobile. All the others felt sloppy, loose, clumsy, and poorly built, and I suspect a lot of that was built right into the car when it was new. Ford management saw the Corvette and said to their engineers, "Duplicate that. You have 13 months to figure it out." I had one where a lifetime Thunderbird enthusiast told me it was by far the best 2-seat 'Bird he had ever driven. I was very excited to try it out, maybe I had been wrong all along. Result? Exactly like all the others. Shaky, rattle-trappy, bad handling, marginal brakes, light on power, and generally feeling like it was going to break down at any moment. Oh, and fluid leaked out of the power steering system almost as fast as you could pour it in the top. That appears to be standard equipment on Thunderbirds, too.

 

Now I don't know if that's how they were when they were new, I wasn't there in 1957. However, 19 out of 20 (that's 95%) that I have personally laid hands on have been so incredibly sloppy that I felt something was wrong with the car (until car #3 or #4 when I realized they are all like that). I can't possibly imagine that somehow I was able to find the only bad ones in circulation. I'm sure Amos Minter T-Birds are good cars--they had better be for the money. But my experience with a fairly large cross-section of 2-seat Thunderbirds is that they are so bad I don't want to sell them anymore.

 

I won't put a 2-seat Thunderbird in my showroom. That's all I'm going to say about that.

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Matt no doubt an honest opinion.  Interesting because it is a car, along with the 61-63 Lincoln convertible I have thought about but been counseled away from by some smart pals.  Plus, the SL is similar enough that, unless it has to be from the 50s, you get that mix of comfortable, powerful, sporty cruising, a boulevard car, the SL provides I always thought the tbird could as well.  Maybe not.  It took a few bucks to sort, but I would drive my SL to LA tomorrow.  For $45k the tbird should be close to perfect, right?

 

Makes me wonder how many little birds, collectable within a decade or so from when new, have been given great cosmetics but remain untouched mechanically, like some CCCA jobs..

Edited by Steve_Mack_CT (see edit history)
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I think the Vettes and Tbirds all share the same thing.  Everyone thinks they are going to perform like their 90's to 2000's counterparts but they aren't.  As soon as most guys find that out,  they put them back on the market to sell.  I'm one of the guys who realizes that if your common or sports car from the 50's and early 60's especially cars back to the 30's will drive as good as an 80's 3/4 ton pickup,  or maybe a tad worse because the pickups have disc brakes. 

I accept that and enjoy them for what they are.  Of course being able to do my own mechanical work,  helps as I can fix alot of the stuff that other guys give up on to make the cars drive better and be more reliable. 

I thought my 57 Tbird was good for what it was and drove it quite a bit, several 150 to 200 mile trips.  never broke down,  but bought it not running on all cylinders with no throttle advance for starters so I was happy to make it a good driver starting from that. 

My 60 Vette ran great and drove well.  Again remembering exactly what you are driving.  Same goes for alot of hot rods.  Guys don't realize a hot rod was meant to go fast and in some cases handle better than stock, nothing else.  If you want a 20?? Cadillac or Mercedes,  they aren't for you.  I'm 6'1". and had no problem with either of the cars but took the top off the day I started driving them and never put it back on until I sold it as Matt Said.  I hate Hardtops.   Neither had a soft top,  so I had a tonneau for the Tbird. Nothing for the Vette.  

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23 hours ago, John_S_in_Penna said:

It's no wonder those Thunderbirds are challenging to sell:

I just checked the Hemmings website, and there are 144

Thunderbirds listed just from the 1957 model year!

Of course you can probably come up with the same number of 57 Chevys as well,  if not through there other sites.  Both are very plentiful,  which makes them easy to comp. 

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At the more modest end of the market I think rarity is much less critical.  VW bugs, tri Fives, vettes, t birds, mustangs, SLs, prewar Fords, MGs all come to mind, along with more pony or muscle cars than you can shake a stick at.  Lots around but enough buyers to establish a pretty good understanding of value.  OP is comparing 2 cars that shouldnt be too hard to put a dollar value on.  I would make the decision on which one is more exciting right now.  If the tbird is that car, and is ultimately a little less of a car from a long term return perspective, does it really matter?

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Pictured is the rust free, California Thunderbird that came to me "for a tune up" around 1995. At the time it was a very nice original example quite like Steve-Mack describes above, cosmetically pleasing, but rough running and unreliable. Previous tuneups were completed and the owner told "old cars run rough". I test drove the car to a couple of cruise nights and while the car sat idling I heard comments like "Y-blocks don't run that smooth" and the like. I had the engine rebuilt, assembled, and tuned the car myself. Brakes, steering, and a laundry list of items were checked off. THe only thing I couldn't do was get the windows to keep from binding. Which was pretty much related to body fit.

I had a body  man who did work for me at the time and we figured it would take $15,000 to $20,000 in cutting, rewelding, and relieving the body to make it fit and flow like a GM body. Those original bodies were built for Ford by Budd on a contract. They were stacked vertically on rail cars in the white and shipped to the assembly plant, a 180 from the way the Continental's of the same year were done.

There really was a lot of lead in the cowl and, I think on the right side you could slide your fingers under the windshield frame. Over the years I have found that to be common. I learned a lot about those cars from that one.

001.thumb.jpg.847773c168bc2d053dce90bada031a37.jpg

 

 

But here is the game changer. Then it is just a matter of "Yeah, I'll trade"

1 hour ago, auburnseeker said:

Of course being able to do my own mechanical work,  helps as I can fix alot of the stuff that other guys give up on to make the cars drive better and be more reliable. 

 

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5 hours ago, Matt Harwood said:

.....I no longer deal in 2-seat Thunderbirds.....they have been the #1 source of customer complaints above and beyond all other cars I've ever sold, by a wide margin.

 

I think part of the problem is that they had a very high survival rate......So you have cars that have been alive for 60 years with who knows how many mechanics tinkering around on them and to what standard?  All......felt sloppy, loose, clumsy, and poorly built, and I suspect a lot of that was built right into the car when it was new.

 

Now I don't know if that's how they were when they were new, I wasn't there in 1957.........But my experience with a fairly large cross-section of 2-seat Thunderbirds is that they are so bad I don't want to sell them anymore.

 

Hi Matt, I always respect your expertise and candor and I think you are right about 60 years of spotty refurbishment attempts being their usual problem.  They were indeed recognized as something special very early and had a following by the time they were 20 years old. I would venture to say most were restored in the 1970s and 1980s so they were restored at 20-30 years old and now the restoration work is 30+ years old, complete with 30 year old tires and rubber.

 

My dad bought a 1955 T-bird in 1980 and that was my first entry into the old car world, so I have a soft spot for them.  But alas I am not blind to their faults and unfortunately Bernie's comments about the Budd bodies are all correct, Todd C

 

(PS--Bernie correctly says T-bird bodies did not fit and flow like a GM body but I would add neither did Corvettes from the 1950s-70s)

 

 

 

 

Edited by poci1957 (see edit history)
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Matt,

I sent your Rant to a 55 T-Bird owner, and got his reply:

"Every word he says is 100% true.  They’re terrible cars, but they look sooooooo good.  Park one next

to a C1 Corvette and see which one draws the crowd, next to a C2 even.  "Just like the blonde drove

in American Graffitti” is what I get all the time even though hers was triple white and mine is black/peacock/white.  Today people would be lemon lawing them left and right.  But, they’re fun and a one car parade.  BTW, the AG car was bought new and is still owned by the original couple.  All its scenes were shot at night.  The film crew would pick it up after the couple got off work and return it each morning since it was their only car.  There was an article about them in one of the magazines not long ago."

My 57 Ranchero is the same quality as the T-Bird.

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I would buy another but it has to be a good deal.  

I would like a 55 black one with red or red and white interior and a 3 speed stick with overdrive.   Soft top only,  though I still have the hard top rack from my 60 Corvette if I had to deal with a hardtop.  The tonneau would be nice as well as it keeps the sun from baking the inside when you are in a store or something and goes on pretty quick. 

My old T-bird is actually for sale for not much more than I sold it for.   I had halibrand looking wheels on it (polished) with wide whites.  Looked appropriate for the era and they were a lot easier to clean than wires.  The wires that were on it and 30 year old tires were shot so I had to do something.  The current owner ditched the wheels and put original wheels with narrow cheap radial tires on it,  so they would need to go.  

Then again aside for a caddy or something i have seen terrible fit and finish on several all original cars i have had.  Why would we expect a T bird to be alot different.  After all welded/fixed  front fenders for the period were slapped on so any corrections had to be done in lead.  Mine had been hit on the Right front and left rear.  It required clipping the whole left quarter way into the trunk and of course a replacement Right front fender.  I believe both doors may have been replaced as well.  It was a no rust car and sort of a body off rebuild when they did it.  I called it the franken bird.  Ironically if you sighted down the car the replacement quarter actually had a curve to the fin and the original one was straight.  From all original cars I could find the curve looked to be correct.  

That car also came from Amos Minter back in the early 80s.  It may have been one he bought to resell.  I'm sure it wasn't one he restored.  I bought it cheap for the time (not a steal but a good deal for the North east) because the owner claimed it needed full restoration. 

A good cleaning went a long way.  The interior was actually very nice.  I heavily wet sanded and buffed the car as it was done in a base clear and whoever sprayed the clear loaded it with orange peel and runs. I replaced the rear bumper a few other odd pieces of chrome and had a great driver that you wouldn't be ashamed to enter in a show.  

Here is a shot of it escorting me in my 56 Olds up North for winter storage a bunch of years ago.  My then new bride was driving the Tbird.  I didn't try it but I bet the stick shift Olds 88 could have outrun the Tbird but it still went down the road well.  I never hesitated to jump on the interstate with the 57 and run it 75 MPH for an hour or two in a jaunt. 

The last photo is from the current craigslist ad.  The car still has the same paint job,  just the bronze color looks different in different lighting. 

IMG_6000.JPG

00Y0Y_3XbxlQuqBdd_600x450.jpg

Edited by auburnseeker (see edit history)
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While it drove well and seemed to be Ok on an alignment machine, (so the frame isn't bent). with all the choices out there I would find a different one.  The paint had a few small cracks and though it was rust free had definitely had a bunch of work from the collision. 

Seems to be the only cars that are "collectible" that haven't seen much of a price increase are the ones I own/ owned.  A 57 Tbird (had it 10 years and worth exactly what it was when I bought it plus a slight uptick for all the improvements I made on it) and my 36 Cord.  Seems to be worth what I paid for it 6 or 7 years later.  LOL. 

I sure know how to pick them. 

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7 minutes ago, auburnseeker said:

While it drove well and seemed to be Ok on an alignment machine, (so the frame isn't bent). with all the choices out there I would find a different one.  The paint had a few small cracks and though it was rust free had definitely had a bunch of work from the collision. 

Seems to be the only cars that are "collectible" that haven't seen much of a price increase are the ones I own/ owned.....

I sure know how to pick them. 

If they aren’t going down, you are ahead of the curve!  My talent is dumping cars just before they become “hot”

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I prefer the T-Bird over the 57 Bel Air. Just a better looking car to me. I haven't driven one in more than a decade, but even longer than that for a 57 Chevy. Last time I looked at buying a baby Bird I had the chance to drive a 7 yr old 2002 T-Bird. Bought it instead. At least I could drive it on those 90 % humidity 90 degree days!

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I have always subscribed to the idea that there should be a "cost of ownership" attached to any item a person has. Whether that is true or not I don't know. But it sure has made life a lot easier for me than a lot of guys I have known.

 

Maybe the results from the Ancestry.com test my Wife got me for Christmas will shed some light on that.

Bernie

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7 minutes ago, DAVES89 said:

Bernie, The police are now using the Ancestry website [ and websites similar to that] to do a "reverse" DNA search to resolve cold cases. That is how they caught the "Golden Gate" killer.

 Hope there are no skeletons in your family tree..

 

My wife wanted to do the DNA test for one of those websites but there's just no way I'm putting my DNA into some database. Even if I'm not a serial killer (as far as any of you know), I don't need anyone being able to lay their hands on any relevant information about me. Fortunately, I don't have fingerprints (seriously), so at least I don't have to worry about that little detail, but willingly giving up DNA seems ludicrous. 

 

What were we talking about again? 

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All right I guess I will jump in here too. In the early 1950’s my newly married Dad and Mom restored a 1911 Model T Ford they finished in 1955 and took to the Old Car Festival in Greenfield Village. The new T Birds had just came out and Dad wanted one. It took till 1957 till they did. It was ordered with 3 speed and overdrive, 312, radio delete, hardtop without the porthole and full hubcaps. No power steering, brakes, windows etc. Dad’s idea was in buying it was to have a car for life that they would not have to restore like the Model T. They took it on trip to Colorado that year. That was the only time it ever saw rain. I took my first ride in the T-bird in 1958. Over the years, he only let me drive it two times for around the block. In 2015 after his passing I inherited the car with 24000 miles. It is like a new car, has plenty of power and easy to steer with the manual steering and stops well with silicone fluid in  for over 30 years. Besides the mufflers and tailpipes and battery, the only thing rebuild over the years is the carb about 10 years ago. In fact it still has two original tires. The other two were replaced with 40 year old “new tires” about five years ago. While that was fine for my Dad that put on about 100 miles in the last 20 years, I plan to drive it a bit more so yes new Goodyear bias ply will be put on in a few weeks. I have been busy sorting out several other cars but will have time to drive this one a little bit more this year. Other than than the tires and tail pipes again, it is ready to go. I also plan to clean out a place in my pole barn loft for the hard top as stated before, it is hard to get in. As the soft top has not been up in probably 40 years, may have some issues there. I love the way the car drives even with the bias tires. While I have radials on my other newer collector cars, I will stick with the original type Goodyears for the look and the fact I will only drive it 200 or so miles a year on local tours. With the 3 Speed overdrive it seem to have more power than my 1970 350/350 Vette.  Dad had it up to 123 MPH in Kansas in 57 and still had more but backed off when he saw a truck ahead pull on the road. My vote is for the T-Bird but I am a bit bias. FYI, I also have that 1911  Model T too which has completed the last three Ohio Model T Jamborees. 

 

Tom Muth

Southern Ohio Chapter AACA

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While I never had a Thunderbird, I did have a 1956 Fairlane Sunliner that was a very reliable and well constructed vehicle. Was there really that much difference between the Thunderbird and the rest of the Ford line?  FWIW, based solely on appearance and general "sportiness,"  I'd trade in an instant, and I'm a GM/Corvette person..

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  • 2 years later...

Some years ago I had a real nice 1954 Chevy 210 that i liked very much. The only boring thing was that it was a 6 cylinder ( the only engine opition that year ) four door sedan so I traded it in for a 1957 Bel Air Sport Sedan with a 283 and PG. The dealer had bought the 57 at the Hershey Car Corall in 2010. I really liked the 57 a lot and I drove her around 4000 miles the seven years I had it.

 

I have always liked the 1955-57 Tbirds but never had one until now.

 

The 56 bird comes from the very same dealer so he traded my 57 Chevy back when I bought the bird from him. He had bought the Tbird at the 2019 Hershey Car Corall.

 

Now I have only driven the Tbird about 5 miles so far so I can not tell you wich one was the best car but I can give you a report on that subject later.

 

 

54 chevy.JPG

57 sport sedan-0 - Copy.jpg

56 tbird 1.JPG

56 tbird 2.JPG

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